One of my favorite Super Bowl commercials is 2020’s Boston-set “smaht pahk” ad, which heralded Hyundai’s self-parking feature. 

Rachel Dratch’s and Chris Evans’ exaggerated Boston accents grab your attention. John Krasinski confidently eyeing a too-narrow parking space piques your interest.

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If you’ve ever squeezed into a parallel parking space, lurching back and forth a few inches at a time, this ad probably awakened a burning desire for a self-pahking cah.

By the time David “Big Papi” Ortiz leans out of a nearby window and watches the sedan easily slide between two poorly parked cars, you’ve gone into action and pulled up Hyundai’s website on your phone.

Table of Contents

History of the AIDA Model

Attention, interest, desire, and action: The four components of the AIDA model form the backbone of many great marketing strategies.

This advertising formula was laid out by eventual Advertising Hall of Fame inductee Elias St. Elmo Lewis in 1898, back when the world’s fastest car, a non-self-parking Porsche, hit a breakneck speed of 39 miles per hour.

More than a century later, it’s still a solid framework to write marketing copy that attracts and engages customers, generates leads, and closes deals.

Even in the era of artificial intelligence, using an old-school marketing model can help make your marketing copy sing.

What does “AIDA” stand for?

The first “A” in “AIDA” stands for attention. “I” and “D” stand for interest and desire, and the final “A” stands for action.

This four-stage model is based on the hierarchy of effects theory, meaning that customers have to move through each stage to complete the final desired action.

Like a typical marketing funnel, each stage has fewer consumers than the previous one; unlike a marketing funnel, it’s more linear and doesn’t have as much flexibility in accommodating different user journeys.

The AIDA marketing model. A: Attention. I: Interest. D: Desire. A: Action.

How to Apply the AIDA Model to Your Marketing

The AIDA model uses similar elements to a good storyteller who makes you lean in for more. So even if you haven’t heard of the AIDA model, there’s a good chance you’ve used it in marketing materials without realizing it.

By bringing a little bit of structure to your instincts, you can create content and design your website with more control over your prospects' paths to a purchasing decision.

Here’s a guide to understanding and implementing each stage of the AIDA marketing model:

Attract Attention

What words will spark your audience’s curiosity about your company’s service or product? In the “attention” stage of this marketing model, the consumer is asking, “What is it?”

Note that this step usually follows or overlaps with your efforts to increase brand awareness.

Pro tip: I am a big fan of starting small by making lists of words — use tools like ChatGPT and online dictionaries to help, but avoid words that aren’t already in your vocabulary, don’t come naturally to marketing copy, or simply don’t speak to your target audience.

For this article, I asked HubGPT, HubSpot’s internal AI tool, to make me a list of 20 words to use in marketing copy that would spark curiosity.

It returned words like “discover” and “exclusive,” which are widely applicable, but it also suggested “mystery” and “enigmatic” — neither of which I’d likely use unless the service in question involved a magician (and probably not even then, but you know your audience best!).

Exclusive, unveil, secret, discover, mystery, intriguing, uncover, hidden, untold, enigma, revel, forbidden, puzzling, enigmatic, confide, clue, illuminate, curious, veiled, allure.

Generate Interest

You’ve captured their attention — now you have to hold it.

Your audience wants to learn more about your brand, the benefits of your solution(s), and your potential fit with them. In this stage, the goal is to use persuasive, exciting content to get them to think, “I like it.”

Pro tip: You can do this with a hook. What makes your product or service distinct? Avoid industry jargon or cliches by being as specific as possible. People remember stories more than facts and figures, so storytelling is a simple and effective way to spark curiosity and find resonance with your audience.

To generate interest for my new small business, a magician-staffed house-cleaning service that declutters your home with the flick of a wand (if only!), I began with my list of curiosity-sparking words.

“Discover the magic of a clean house” grabs the attention of people with messy houses, and “magic” suggests something distinct about the service.

“Experience the Magic of a Tidy Home with Our Magician-Staffed Cleaning Service!”, “Transform Your Space with an Enchanting Clean and Declutter Experience,” ”Wave Goodbye to Clutter with Our Wizardly Cleaning Team – Book Your Appointment Today!“, ”Abracadabra! Watch as Your Home is Transformed into a Clean, Clutter-Free Haven,” “Let our Magicians Wave Their Magic Wands and Make Your Clutter Disappear – Schedule Your Cleaning Today!” Responses provided by HubGPT.

What We Like

Your audience’s affinity for your brand needs hits a certain threshold. The more aligned you are with their needs and values, the more likely you are to find success.

The 1440 newsletter’s tagline, “All your news. None of the bias.” speaks to an audience that is frustrated with opinion-based news sources.

A brief description demonstrates the brand’s alignment with an audience that wants to broaden its news diet (“We scour 100+ sources”) but doesn’t have much time (“all in a five-minute read”).

1440. All your news. None of the bias. We scour 100+ sources so you don’t have to. Culture, science, sports, politics, business, and more — all in a five-minute read.

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Evoke Desire

The goal of this stage is to turn that “I like it” into an “I want it.”

You can accomplish this the same way social media influencers do: by building trust with your audience. You’re much more likely to want a product if you trust that the influencer actually uses and loves it.

Adapt that to your own brand on your website, newsletter, downloadable offers, and social media, and keep serving content that’s interesting, accurate, and builds a rapport with your audience.

For my magical house-cleaning service, I can build trust through empathetic content that doesn’t alienate my messy potential customers.

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The prospects you’re most likely to close are the consumers who envision a future with you — they already enjoy consuming your content and think your product or service will be even better.

For this reason, you must demonstrate a gap between where they are now and where they could be with your solution. At the same time, you must establish social proof with case studies and testimonials.

Pro tip: “Before and after”-style content is a great example of how to evoke desire while gaining trust.

What We Like

Check out the headline on this case study by Calendly: “How one college saved $170K last year with Calendly.” This helps a prospect envision a future with this product (“What would my life be like if I achieved similar results?”).

The before is the prospect’s current stage, and the after is the vision of saving nearly $200K for their business. Then, if they read the full case study, they’ll see social proof from a customer just like them.

How one college saved $170K last year with Calendly.

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Spur Into Action

After you generate enough desire for your product or service, give your prospects the chance to act on it. The goal is to transform their desire into action and compel them to respond with low-friction but high-incentive calls to action.

You want their “I want it” to convert to “I’m getting it.”

Pro tip: No matter how close your prospect is to a purchasing decision, you should present a high-value demonstration of how you will help them.

If I’m offering a free cleaning to kickstart my magical house-cleaning business, “Don’t wait for the magic to happen — summon your free cleaning today,” establishes the outcome and value of my offer.

The CTA should be prominent, clear, and uncomplicated, such as a button or banner that spells out what action is necessary and what’s in it for them.

What We Like

Eliminating friction increases your likelihood of success. Nerdwallet, a site that provides resources on personal finance topics, has such a CTA for its credit card comparison tool.

The button is simple yet descriptive: “Compare credit cards.” It’s highlighted on the Nerdwallet homepage with a clever headline and a short, value-driven description. The setup is uncomplicated and friction-free, and it can generate leads while empowering and delighting those leads with high-value information.

The right credit card is right here. Looking for a card that earns travel points, cash back, or rewards? Our side-by-side comparisons and objective reviews can help you make the smartest decision. Button one: Compare credit cards. Button two: Explore guides and tips.

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AIDA Drawbacks

The AIDA framework has its limitations. Not all purchasing decisions are linear, and the AIDA model doesn't account for increasingly common non-linear funnels. It also doesn’t account for post-action strategies like customer delight.

A prospective customer might go looking for a solution to a problem and find your company at the “desire” stage of the model. Plus, today’s more informed, more engaged consumers set a higher bar for brands to clear in order to attract attention and generate interest.

Even though we’ve broken the AIDA model into four distinct stages, it’s important to remember that it’s part of a holistic growth strategy. Applying one letter of the model to a single tactic in your marketing strategy will leave you with a short-sighted plan.

An effective ad, like Hyundai’s 2020 Super Bowl ad, might prompt three or four stages of the AIDA model and spur a potential buyer to action. Models like the flywheel may be more foundational to your overall strategy.

Using the AIDA Model in the Era of AI

Because the AIDA model is so linear, and because emerging tech like artificial intelligence and machine learning (AI/ML) can feel downright chaotic in comparison, it’s not unreasonable to question the AIDA model’s relevance in 2024.

The AIDA model and AI/ML aren’t mutually exclusive. A 2022 paper in the peer-reviewed journal Big Data and Cognitive Computing makes a compelling case for retailers to use the AIDA model to understand consumer data retrieved by AI/ML.

The paper’s authors, Dr. Yang-Im Lee and Dr. Peter R.J. Trim, use the AIDA model to focus and interpret customer data retrieved by AI/ML. At the consumer’s “interest” stage, retailers are showing off their brand personality and characteristics.

At the same time, AI/ML-powered chatbots, live-language translators, and the like are gathering key demographic data on their consumers.

Understanding the latter through the lens of the former — stick with me here — opens up new opportunities for AI/ML, like defining customer groups and sending “personalized messages based on the result of combining various data sets and interpreting market and consumer intelligence.”

The paper goes on to explain how correlating the AIDA model and AI/ML can lead to better marketing policies that build trust and prioritize online safety, and it’s free to read.

Using the AIDA Framework

Even in 2024, 126 years after Elias St. Elmo Lewis developed the AIDA model, it’s still a sturdy framework for understanding the buyer’s journey.

Whether you apply it to AI/ML data or use it as a cornerstone of your marketing strategy, you’ll be using a time-tested formula to engage, persuade, and convert your audience into customers.

Editor’s note: This post was originally published in October 2018 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.

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